The past few days have added up to become one of the busiest weeks ever here at
Fervor Coulee, and for that I thank you. I hope you are finding things of interest. (Sorry about the multiple edits- things keep disappearing. Hopefully…)
Today was a strange day. I had taken yesterday off from catching up on various school-based projects to do some casual recharging and ended up watching portions of a couple hockey games, reading a novel, visiting Costco (Urgh!), watching forgettable movies with my wife, and buying 120 plastic flutes.
This morning I sat down and started ploughing through the work and it didn’t take as long to get through as I had anticipated; a good thing as it turned out because, as is often the case, I became distracted. I checked my email and was sent into a bit of a spin learning that a distant but important person in my life had passed away after a long battle with cancer.
I’m not sure why that got me going in this direction, but it got me thinking about Idyl Tea. Again, no connection to my friend who had passed this morning, except- I suppose and upon reflection- my friend Tina was connected to a bluegrass band I have long championed. And, years ago, the first band I can recall supporting similarly in print was Idyl Tea.
Almost three decades ago, when I was desperately trying to be an urban-hipster (something I never successfully pulled off) I bought a compilation album called It Came from Innerspace and this may have been the first placed I heard the precursor to Idyl Tea, Route 66.
Hailing from Edmonton, Route 66 had two songs on the album, “Where Is She During the Week” and “Had Enough of This,” and to me they were somehow remarkable. While the album also featured facecrime (yeah! Moe Berg!) and the Malibu Kens, legendary bands from the considerable distance of Leduc to Edmonton- which was greater than it would now seem- Route 66’s mix of power pop, uncomfortable swagger, punk and vulnerable troubadourism appealed to me immediately. They were modern mods, a sub-group that I could only hope to be associated with. If I could only find the right community hall, I too could be like them. Well, that and learn to play music. And look cool.
A few months later, or maybe at the same time- timelines get foggy after awhile- I found myself living in Lister Hall on the U of A campus, being served late-night pizza at The Ship by a guy I recognized, bass playing Henry Engel. Over the course of my university career, I would cross paths with Henry and his Idyl Tea bandmates in a number of ways, most significantly (for me) by interviewing the band and writing a Gateway feature advancing one of their gigs in the city. Craig Metcalfe worked at a favourite record store, Sound Connection. Everett LaRoi always seemed more distant and I don’t recall having anything to do with him. (Attendance at another Idyl Tea gig ended in a not-at-fault car accident for my future-wife and me, and the less said about that, the better.)
Idyl Tea combined what I eventually grew to love about country and what I already embraced about power pop- bright chords, sometimes devastatingly up-front confession through lyric, and a breezy ability to convey sadness that sounded so cheerful. A bit like bluegrass, that.
I can’t remember anything of what I wrote about them back in 1985 or 1986, and the bound-green annuals I received as payment for my Gateway writing have disappeared along the way. I do remember being entirely enthralled with their music, their image, and had the hope that maybe, someday, I’d be able to say that I knew them when and –perhaps- get a thank you in their first album’s notes!
Well, none of that came to fruition.
Still “Awfully Nice Eyes,” from a distance of 25 or more years, remains a masterful song. It may have been the first Idyl Tea song I heard and, listening to it now, I hear elements of the music of the time: Green on Red, The Long Ryders, The Three O’Clock, Dwight Twilley. It ends in a rush of feedback, which I remember thinking was out of place even then, as the song is so beautiful. Irony, I suppose. It was hardly the only song that captured my attention as “In the Blue” reminded me of Paul Weller, and somewhere in the back of my head I recall that the guys were big fans of The Jam. Their EP How I See This Table was played many a time while I was in university and the years following, but like so many things was eventually placed on a shelf and if not forgotten, at least neglected.
Idyl Tea didn’t record a lot. Over several years, they released a self-titled album, featuring more near-perfect slices of power pop: “Tryin’ to Get Back,” “Comin’ Round,” Untitled Folk Song,” “Ruin Your Life,” and “Your Groovy World,” and another EP, Funny Feelin’. Each was bought as they were found, but remember that back in the late-80s and early 90s, word didn’t travel so fast. Music was more precious- catching a video of the band on Much Music while living in La Loche, Saskatchewan was quite surreal: “Hey, I (almost) know those guys!”
Today, Henry Engel- for whatever reason- came to mind, and I started Googling. Henry Engel didn’t turn up too much, except a link to Everett’s website. After a bit, I found a YouTube clip of Henry Engel performing “Pettin’ Party Paula” on what appears to be the Victoria waterfront. “Hank” Engel was what I needed and I was on my way. Apparently, the guy who once served me pizza is now sometimes known as Hank Angel, and has gone rockabilly, allowing me to (marginally) tie this rambling piece into Fervor Coulee’s mission of roots music opinion.
http://www.myspace.com/hankengelband features songs that I assume come from Henry Engel’s 50s lovin’ alter-ego. Some hardly-watchable video clips from elsewhere make things a bit more clear, although the fella’s appearance changed markedly and eventually- and who knows why it took so long- I Googled Idyl Tea.
http://jam.canoe.ca/Music/Pop_Encyclopedia/I/Idyl_Tea.html came up and filled in some of the missing pieces. But, right around the corner was http://www.myspace.com/idyltea, a surprise find. Who would have thought that Idyl Tea would have a MySpace site after all these years? I started listening to the tunes and was taken back to an easier, lighter time.
As I type I’m listening to my CD Idyl Tea, an album one can buy via iTunes and occasionally find in Edmonton and area used record stores. I recall listening to the cassette I had purchased twenty years ago while bopping around my classroom in Swan Hills on cold and tiring weekends preparing for the week ahead. What I don’t recall is ever thinking that this was an absolutely brilliant recording. Listening today, I’m overwhelmed at the clarity of their music, the ability of Everett, Henry, and Craig to make focused, simple music that combined their love of 60s pop and the bombastic, contemporary sound of the day into a timeless vision that seems more vital today than it did then. The harmonies are rich and fragile, held together by an invisible string that threatens to snap at any moment.
I’m convinced that if I was listening to Paul Collins’ latest album, a new album from the long-lamented Records, or The Inmates debut, I wouldn’t feel any more impressed. Dang, Idyl Tea is solid and holds up incredibly well to the passage of time.
A bit more exploring and it is like a lightning bolt hits me: http://www.idyltea.com/ is found though further searching, and thirty minutes after I begin down this road, I learn that a new Idyl Tea album is nigh!
Beside a picture of someone who doesn’t look anything like Craig Metcalfe is the announcement: “Idyl Tea is pleased to announce that the group will be releasing a new cd in 2011. The cd, tentatively titled Song That’s Not Finished Yet will be a full length cd recording of new songs by the Edmonton-based trio.” Above that, this: “Idyl Tea is putting the final touches on their brand new cd Song That’s Not Finished Yet, which will be released in the year 2011. Hank Engel will be recording some final overdubs in Scott Henderson’s studio in Sooke, British Columbia on Saturday, December 4, 2010. Meanwhile, the following week, guitarist Everett LaRoi and drummer Craig Metcalfe will be finishing their final overdubs at LaRoi’s studio in Edmonton, Alberta.”
A smile comes to my face. Idyl bleedin’ Tea is back. Am I the only one- outside the trio- who cares? I hope not.
Additional songs are available for streaming, a few of which I assume come from the forthcoming project. “Two Straight Lines” and “Simon’s Stereo” could be from that magical 1990 album that Attic Records eventually picked up. They contain the seeming innocence of the young men who recorded the marvelous “Mr. Air Traffic Controller” and “Funny Feelin’.” “The You You Were Then” and “Baby Slow Down” are rougher, more lived in perhaps, reflecting lives spent living.
Regardless, the songs bring back my love of Idyl Tea. In an afternoon that started with awful but hardly unexpected news, I found distraction in music and writing, music that was once important to me. More than that, I rediscovered a band that I really cared about once upon a time, and have hope for a smashing album in the not so distant future. And I think my friend Tina would be happy about that.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald